MogIA, an artificial intelligence program designed to predict presidential elections, now has a record of four for four. The concept of the program is pretty simple; all it does is search social media to determine how engaged people are with each of the candidates. The total post count is a factor, but MogAI also attempts to determine positive or negative sentiment toward the candidate. The candidate with the most positive engagement is then declared the winner — first Bush in 2004, then Obama twice, and now Donald Trump.
It could just be a parlor trick that got lucky four times in a row. It is beyond debate that social media is now critical to the political process, however. According to the most recent Pew Research Center survey, Americans are now almost twice as likely to get their political news online as they are from a print newspaper. For 28% of Americans, social media is their primary news source.
The 2016 election was a reversal of the paradigm that had been seen in elections since social media emerged. It had previously been the Democratic candidate who tended to inspire more of a social media following, while the Republican media effort was seen as more stodgy and traditional. This time out, it was Donald Trump lighting up the Twittersphere with his seemingly unfiltered thoughts, often using the platform to debut his new attack lines and insulting nicknames for his opponents.
In turn, Trump’s followers flooded the Internet with supportive postings. He was the first Republican candidate in history to benefit from supportive meme images and viral videos created by fans, with the “Can’t Stump The Trump” series being an early success. His unofficial subreddit, The_Donald, also became one of the most visited places on the internet, racking up over 75 million page views at its peak in October.
Hillary Clinton’s social media effort was much less about “shock and awe” than what came from Trump and his camp, but it was still widely seen as effective. According to statistics published by Twitter, Clinton actually won the tweet war in terms of numbers — she had more likes, shares and comments than Trump did in total. Sinking down into the mud with her opponent actually proved to be the most effective strategy when engaging on social media, as her “Delete your account” response to Trump was actually re-tweeted more than anything else in the campaign.
Trump came out ahead on Facebook, however, with 12 million total followers there to Clinton’s 8 million. Facebook appears to have played a pivotal role in the election with so many people turning to it for news, particularly among Trump supporters. WIRED Magazine concluded that Facebook had a strong role in getting Trump elected as the bulk of his campaign funds were donated through the site. The Trump campaign not only raised money through Facebook, but poured some $90 million back into advertising through the platform. The Clinton campaign spent the bulk of their funds on television advertising, largely ceding social media to Trump.
The issue of “fake news” has also been raised repeatedly as people try to make sense of what was seen as an unpredictable and shocking final result by most (even seemingly by Trump and his campaign). A widespread theory is that social media algorithms tend to reinforce and entrench the existing beliefs of users by automatically filtering displayed content based on their viewing history. The supporters of each candidate would thus be more likely to get a fake story that put their candidate in a favorable light rather than a verifiable one that was critical of them.
There are still more variables to uncover and statistics to pore through before a complete picture of how Donald Trump managed to get elected against all odds comes through. In the meantime, it’s safe to conclude that social media presence will be a “yuge” factor in elections going forward.
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